Not only is this my first blog post for this new blog, but it’s my first post for 2017: the year to top all years. Oh man, I’m so fricking excited. You guys have no idea. Seriously. NO idea. There are so many BIG things planned for this year, it’s going to blow your minds!
That’s not what this blog is about, though! HAHA! Sorry for getting you all syked up and then being like, “No!” But trust me, if you’re a writer, you’ll want to read this. I’m going to be discussing the three biggest issues I see as an Acquisitions Editor–words counts, query letters, and synopses.
Now, there’s a good amount of debate among the writer/publishing community as to the “correct” information for these three things. So, in this blog, I’ll be giving you my thoughts and ideas on each one, and an overview and guide to how I do things.
Let’s begin with word counts.
While the word count of a manuscript is highly flexible, there are general parameters for each category/genre. Many times overly low or overly high word counts can send up red flags to editors and agents.
Flash Fiction: 100-500 words
Short Stories: 1,000-8,000 words
Novellas: 20,000-40,000 words
Children’s Picture Books: 500-700 words
Children’s Chapter Books: 10,000-25,000 words
Middle Grade: 25,000-40,000 words
Young Adult: 50,000-80,000 words
New Adult: 60,000-85,000 words
Literary Fiction/Commercial Fiction/Women’s Fiction: 80,000-110,000 words
Crime Fiction: 90,000-100,000 words
Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense: 70,000-90,000 words
Romance (and all sub-genres): 40,000-100,000 words
Fantasy: 90,000-120,000 words
Paranormal: 75,000-95,000 words
Horror: 80,000-100,000 words
Science Fiction: 90,000-125,000 words
Historical: 100,000-120,000 words
Nonfiction: 70,000-110,000 words
Like I said, these word counts aren’t set in stone, but they’re pretty solid guidelines if you’re wondering where you should aim for your manuscript.
Now on to the literal bane of every writer’s existence: The Query Letter.
If you’ve ever even attempted to write a query letter before, you know after about thirty seconds you tend to feel like this:
And don’t worry, we all feel that way. Which is why I’m going to give you an awesome query letter writing guide that I use, not only for my own work but to help guide my authors to better writing.
First, there are a few general rules to remember about the query letter.
They should be between 250-300 words in length. Anything over that and you’re probably going to lose the attention of the agent/editor. We have a lot of submissions to read through every day, so query letters need to be short and amazing. These are the first thing we read in your submission, and generally give the push as to whether or not we are going to bother reading the rest of what you’ve submitted.
Also, to save your words, you don’t need to say that you’re looking for representation or publication. You’re querying agents and editors, so clearly we know you aren’t looking to order an extra large pepperoni pizza.
Lastly, don’t write your query letter as your character. First person query letters rarely turn out well. Most of the time, it’s a trainwreck. Query letters work best in third person. Literally, when it comes to query letters, it’s the only time I’ve ever heard anyone say, “Be the rule, not the exception.”
Now, on to the actual query letter writing guide!
I break a query letter into 8 parts. They’re pretty simple and will generally keep you within the word count that’s appropriate. So here we go!
Part 1: Opening
This is a simple line that says, “Dear (Insert agent/editor’s name here),”
Be professional in your opening. Despite the fact that you’re a writer, don’t get super cute or think that writing, “Sup ______,” is an appropriate way to address an agent or editor in your submission. It’s not.
Part 2: The Hook
This is a 1-2 sentence paragraph that grabs the attention of the agent/editor and makes them HAVE to keep reading your query letter. The hook should also introduce the main character.
Part 3: Main Character Information
This is the paragraph where you’re going to give the agent/editor some more information and (back)story on your main character. Make us interested in him/her.
Part 4: The Conflict
What is your main character going through? This is the paragraph where you set up what your main character is dealing with. Stick to the main plot though. Don’t waste word count trying to get into all the sub-plots your might have going on. Also, this is the place to mention the love interest or antagonist.
Part 5: The Climax & Choices
The stakes. This paragraph is all about what is riding on your main character’s decision. This is the paragraph that matters the most in a query. Your stakes have to be high enough that it makes the agent/editor’s jaw drop in that “oh shit” moment. And for the love of all things good in the world, do NOT end this with a question. “Will Harry be able to defeat the dark lord or only save himself?” <—–NO! Do NOT do this? As an editor, this wants to make me scream. Don’t ask me questions. I haven’t read your manuscript yet, so I need you to show me that the stakes are so high that I HAVE to read this book. Make my jaw drop!
Part 6: Story Information
In this paragraph you should give the title of the manuscript, category, genre, and word count, along with any comp titles. (Example (which is completely made up) would be: THIS MADE UP BOOK is a young adult urban fantasy complete at 75,000 words and will appeal to fans of Percy Jackson and Divergent.”) This helps show us that you understand where you book fits in the market, though honestly try not to use multi-billion dollar sellers as your comp titles. Personally, I don’t like seeing titles like Harry Potter, Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, ect. in the comp titles. Or things that say fans of “Stephen King or J.K. Rowling”. Just my opinion though.
Part 7: The Closing
A simple line that says, “Thank you for your time and consideration,”
Part 8: Author Information
Name, telephone number, email address–at the minimum so that we can get in touch with you!
**For author’s who have previous writing credits, membership to writing communities, or important educational information. And extra paragraph can be added between Part 6 and Part 7 that states this. (Example: “I have a Bachelor’s Degree from Yale in Creative Writing, and am a member of Romance Writer’s of America.”) Anyway, you get the point.
So that’s the query letter!
Now for the real eye roller. The boring, black and white version of the beloved book you’ve written. THE SYNOPSIS!
Understand that for the most part, the synopsis is meant to be boring. This shows that you know how to actually tell a story from beginning to end, and though it may seem stupid, these are often requested and super important.
These I break down in the same fashion that your middle and high school English teacher used to make you break down the Hero’s Journey for the books you’ve read. Most books follow this path, so you can use this guide to fill in the blanks. Before we get started though, here are a few things to remember about writing a synopsis:
The first time you mention a character, their name should be in ALL CAPS. After the first time, you can write it normally. This helps the name stand out to us so that we remember it.
A synopsis should be 1-2 pages, but certainly no more than 3 pages. Most editors/agents as for a 1-3 page, so stay within that. Using this guide, you’ll probably end up at 1-2 pages.
Also, a few more things to keep in mind before writing your synopsis:
In my opinion, you don’t need to mention EVERY character in your book. Honestly, the protagonist(s), antagonist(s), and the side kick/love interest are the only ones that need to be mentioned by proper name. Everyone else can be mentioned by title (i.e. Mother, teacher, his friend, ect.)
You MUST tell the ending. Again, the entire point of this is to show you can actually tell a story from beginning to end, so if you don’t tell me the ending, I’m not sure you know how, which defeats the purpose.
Stick to the main plots at first, and then if you have extra words and space you can mention subplots. However, subplots are not as important, so stick to the absolute need-to-know information first.